By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Threats to Wyoming’s residents posed by the coronavirus pandemic have eased sufficiently to allow a slight relaxation of the rules put in place in March to slow the spread of the illness, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.
Gordon, during a news conference, said the state will allow some businesses offering personal services, such as hair salons and cosmetologists, to open Friday if they operate under special rules.
The move is the first step in gradually removing all of the restrictions on businesses and gatherings, a process that Gordon said the state would tackle in a methodical way.
“This is a campaign,” he said. “A struggle against a virus, an insidious and invisible enemy. We do not want to surrender any of the ground that we have gained.”
Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist in March issued three public health orders to slow the spread of coronavirus. One closed schools and businesses likely to draw more than 10 customers, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, another closed businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons, and the third prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.
The modified orders will allow businesses offering personal services to open if they limit the number of customers inside their buildings, require customers and staff to wear face masks and eliminate waiting areas.
Gyms will also be allowed to open if they limit the number of people in their facilities, close locker rooms and implement screening and cleaning protocols.
The order prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people will be continued through May 15, Gordon said.
He added that while restaurants and bars cannot yet open to seat customers, up to five people at a time will be allowed to enter restaurants to pick up orders to eat elsewhere.
Several rallies have been held around the state where participants urged Gordon to open businesses up and he reminded Wyoming residents during his Tuesday news conference that most of the state’s businesses have stayed open and that he did not issue a “shelter-in-place” order as many states have.
“We never closed the economy,” he said. “What we did was put restrictions in place for public safety, but we allowed people to continue working.”
He pointed as an example to coal, oil and gas, uranium and trona workers who were not ordered to leave their jobs.
However, global market pressures have led to enormous cuts in demand for Wyoming’s minerals, which in turn has forced reductions in staff numbers at some facilities.
“Our economy is tied to the national economy and the global economy,” Gordon said. “And in both of those cases, there has been a massive hit.”
Gordon and Harrist also stressed during the news conference that county health officers will be allowed to ask for county-wide variances to the statewide orders if conditions allow.
“A thoughtful and measured approach from counties is what we hope for,” Harrist said.
Officials will also continue to review conditions to determine when restaurants and bars might be able to open, but Gordon stressed the state does not want to move too quickly toward opening entirely.
“The fact that we need to bring this economy back, steadily, on a proper pattern, in a way that we don’t end up risking the gains that we’ve made, is absolutely essential,” he said.